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Phoebe Yates Pember, née Levy, was one of seven children of a wealthy and cultured Jewish family in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1856, Phoebe married Thomas Pember of Boston, who died five years later. She moved back in with her parents, who were living in Georgia after the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. Many of Phoebe's siblings embraced the Confederate cause. Her sister Eugenia Levy Phillips was a friend of Rose Greenhow, the famous Confederate spy, and was twice imprisoned. Phoebe Yates Pember was recruited in 1862 by her friend Mary Randolph, wife of the Confederate Secretary of War, who was organizing relief efforts, to serve as a nurse and chief matron at Chimborazo Military Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, then one of the largest military hospitals in the world. In that era, it was an unusual job for a woman. As the first female administrator of the hospital, she tried to do everything possible to relieve the pain, suffering, and death among the sick and wounded soldiers in overcrowded and often primitive conditions. Immediately after the war, Mrs. Pember wrote her memoirs, A Southern Woman's Story: Life in Confederate Richmond (1879), which were first serialized in 1866 in a Baltimore magazine, The Cosmopolite. The book became a landmark work in women's history, and remains one of the most valuable eyewitness accounts of the war for scholars. In his book Belles, Beaux and Brains of the 60’s (1907), Southern author Thomas C. De Leon described Phoebe Yates Pember as a "brisk and brilliant matron" with "a will of steel under a suave refinement." In later years, she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers. Her portrait appeared on a U.S. Postage stamp in 1995.
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